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Journey to the West---Weeklong trip to the Silk Road

As the morning shed its first light on the city Nanjing and the city gradually waking up from the serene night, we were setting off to our weeklong trip to the Silk Road. Students were chatting in twos and threes on our way to the airport, the tiredness of waking up early couldn’t even affect the excitement of our adventure to the ancient trading route. A road which lead us back to where Chinese civilizations started, and to see China as a huge country with incredible diversity. Our trip is going to begin at the starting point of the ancient Silk Road: Xi’an, a wondrous city with history dating back thousands of years, the biggest city in Northern-west China. Then we will further travel to the inner western area Xiahe, an area strongly influenced by the Tibetan Buddhism. Eventually our trip will end in the mystique city Dunhuang, an oasis in the middle of the desert, a resting place for the weary travelers and a praying hideout for those devout Buddhist.

The ancient city Xi’an welcomed us with warm sunshine and splendid clear sky, which was a rare occasion according to our local guide. The lunch was a dumpling banquet which was served with dumplings in different colors, flavors, shapes and sizes. The highlight of the meal was the soup cooked with mini-dumplings. Students curiously learned the fun fact that luckiness is determined by the number of dumplings you get in your bowl according to the local customs.

Eating dumpling banquet in Xi’an

That afternoon we visited the Great Mosque: a nationally famous Islamic temple in Xi’an.The mosque is a combination of traditional Chinese architecture and Islamic art, a series of baronial pavilions in Chinese style, with walls decorated with beautiful Islamic art. The atmosphere was serene calming and peaceful, we were very surprised that such place exists in the clamorous city center. Our guide Chris used both Chinese and English for explaining the sites to us when he knew the students were Chinese language learners, introducing the basic simple information in English and clarifying detailed information in English, which helped the students to understand the city through the language they have been learning.

Students listening to our guide explaining the history of the Great Mosque

In The Great Mosque

As the night time arrived, the Muslim quarter was packed with people. It is an open kitchen area where you can taste the delicacy of the northwestern region, a unique cuisine that combines Chinese and Middle Eastern flavors with delicious lamb barbecue with sizzling flames, tasty ruby colored pomegranate juice, famous hand-ripped buns in lamb soup, and “burgers” with meat fillings.

The second morning we visited the Xi’an city wall, the most well-preserved wall in China, which surrounds the entire inner city area in 12 square kilometer. We all rented bikes and went biking along the walls, experiencing the contrasting beauty of the ancient city on one side and taller modern buildings on the other. A lot of students said that this was what we needed to get a great view as well as a good morning workout of this historic fortification.

Biking on the Xi’an city wall 20

On the Xi’an city wall

 Two of our students, Amanda Heston and Elizabeth McCooney had their birthdays during the trip, Liz on November 2nd and Amanda’s 21st birthday on November 4th. Though they were far away from home in a foreign country, we wanted them to feel the warmth of their CIEE families in China. Our CIEE program is like a big family that cares and looks after one another. We surprised them with cakes and celebrated their birthdays during lunch in Xi ’an. Everyone sang the “Birthday song” in Chinese and English. Amanda said that it was a special birthday for her because not everyone could celebrate their 21st birthday on the Silk Road.

6 7

Celebrating Amanda and Liz’s birthday together

Later on, we went to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, the eighth wonder of the world, and of course, what the ancient city of Xi’an is known for. We were amazed by the fact that these warriors of huge quantity were made thousands of years ago. The techniques and tools they used contained such high standard of craftsmanship. What was more astonishing was that no two warriors were the same, each warrior bears different expression as well was posture. In addition, we were lucky to be able to see archaeologists still working on site to remodel and restore the destructed pieces. The slight and attentive procedures they undertake at various stages of excavation were quite impressive.

In front of the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum

After arriving at Lanzhou after taking the overnight train, we continued driving for several hours before arriving at the Liujiaxia Reservoir. The backdrop of landscape has transformed into a yellowish splendor of sand mountains continuing with no ends. As we approach the reservoir, our sight was replaced with and enormous water area of crystal blue. It was like seeing sea in the middle of the desert. To get to our destination, Bingling Temple, the only way was through speed boat. The bumpy speed boat ride with splashing water was another fun experience for all the students as we soared through the open water. 

The Bingling Temple is a series of grottoes filled with Buddhist sculpture carved into natural caves and caverns in a canyon along the Yellow River. We learned that each cave is like a miniature temple filled with Buddhist imagery of the representing dynasty with distinct characteristics. These caves culminated at a large natural cavern and finally lead us to a hidden cliff-side of the giant Maitreya Buddha. We took a lot of fun pictures and some students were curious and wandered a bit further to the valley to see the river. It was really peaceful and tranquil there making us thinking of the ancient devout believers who built the Buddhist sculptures along the riverbank.

Bingling Temple with Liujiaxia Reservoir in the backdrop

Journey to the West  

In front the giant Maitreya Buddha in Bingling Temple

The dried river way of Yellow river


The visit to Labrang Monastery was our last stop in Xiahe. The white walls and gilded roofs of the monastery feature a blend of Tibetan and Indian Vihara architectural styles. The view is spectacular. There were lots of Tibetan people circling around the stupa, chanting prayers and following the prayer wheels while entering the monastery. A monk in the monastery gave us a guided tour though the halls and institutes domed with golden roofs and the interior prayer halls with images of the various Buddha. The experience was spiritually inspiring and impossible to describe. We also came across a square where hundreds of monks were gathered debating on different aspects or reciting sutra. One of the students Amanda got into a light conversation with one of the local Tibetan mother visiting the monastery with her son. She told us that she lives in the nearby village and visit the monastery nearly every day, for here it’s a peaceful place to pray for her children and family. Smelling the yak butter aroma inside the montastery, hearing the chanting of prayers by the Tibetan monks and seeing the pious Tibetan people kowtowing in front of the halls, we were all in awe of this scared place. 

The gathering square in Labrang Monastery

Chatting with local Tibetan

The overnight train took us to the last stop of the trip- Dunhuang, the time spent on the train was a very pleasant experience for all of us. It was a perfect bonding time, students mingled with each other in small train compartments having “life talks”, discussing “serious topics” or the fun experiences.

On the overnight train to Dunhuang

On the desert of Mingsha Shan

Camel riding in Mingsha Shan

The city of Dunhuang was without doubt the highlight of the entire trip. We saw the Crescent Lake and Mingsha Shan (Singing-Sand Mountain). It is indeed a place of spectacular natural beauty. We rode camels through the pale golden sand dunes, and enjoyed the beautiful wavy shapes of the smooth yellow dunes against the deep blue sky. Some students voted this site as the number one favorite through the entire trip.

The visit to the Mogao Grottos the next day gave us the chance to experience culturally this great repository of Buddhist art. Although the painting on the wall have been worn or damaged, but you can still perceive the generous faith in the exquisite and meticulous drawing. The Mogao grottos are indeed, according to one of our student, “a museum of visualized history”.

In front of the Mogao Grottos


Coming back to Nanjing is like waking up from a dream, and again we are settling down again to our daily studies and works. We were able to experience a whole new side of China that we have never imagined before. Through this trip, our students have experienced a splendorous cultural heritage, the diversity of China in geography, ethnicity, religion, food and lifestyle, which I hope will inspire them to dig deeper as they live and study in China.



Silk Road Diary: Dunhuang by Henry Guyver

We woke up in Dunhuang, an oasis in the Gobi desert. It was a place along the Silk Road where weary travellers would replenish supplies, trade goods, and switch out for fresh camels. This was my favorite stop of the entire trip. As we got in the guide said it was a small town at only 180,000 people – funny how it really is all about perspective. The “town” is surrounded by dunes. Huge, beautiful soft sand dunes in every direction. That morning we had free time before our group lunch, so Nick, Tracy, Jiang Laoshi, and I set out for a bit of a stroll. The sun was just coming up and you could see the dunes rising up in the distance through the crisp, cold air. We went through the main shopping/pedestrian mall but everything was closed. We strolled on and went along the river. We started hearing gunshots and were a bit bewildered (and mildly concerned). We looked for the source and across the bridge, along the riverbank there was a long path with little stops for sitting or little exercise stations. At two different spots with open space there were men whipping! The first man had a long Indiana Jones style whip with red cloth braided into the leather in some places. He was doing these incredible cracks. We stopped and asked him what it was for, he said for health (we knew that already – anything weird anyone does in China is for health). He said it was a good full body exercise. I asked him if he could teach me and he said that it was impossible for me to learn haha! I laughed and asked if I could try anyway and he said ok. It was hard, I never did make much of a good noise.

We headed on down the river where there was another man doing it, but the first 5 feet of his whip were double linked heavy steel chain! After that it was 3 feet more double linked steel chain, just a little smaller, and then about 6 feet of half inch thick rope. You could actually feel it in the air when he cracked his whip – that is what we’d heard from so far away. It was easily as loud as a 9mm handgun. He was a strong looking guy, maybe mid 50s. We asked him what the deal with it was and he said that he was retired and had been doing it for about a year now, that it was a good way to start the day, good exercise, and that he had friends that he did it with. He was much nicer and more fun than the first guy. I asked if he could teach me and he said yes, but that I shouldn’t be discouraged if I didn’t get it, as it took him about two weeks to get it down. He handed it to me and my hand comically dropped – the thing was crazy heavy!! I was already locked in at that point though, so I stood in the middle of the area and dropped all but the handle. It fell like a medieval knight’s mace, I tried to wrap my head around what I was supposed to do. He said to get it helicoptering around my head and then “when I felt it” to rip it back the other way with my whole body. It was totally unnerving to have heavy chain going over my head and even more so to think I was going to try and kill all of its momentum with one jerk.  It was scary! I put my sunglasses on so I wouldn’t take an eye out and went for it. It quickly came right back at me and not gently wrapped all the way around me. This was very funny for everybody – including me, and I tried again, this time making a pathetic clipping sound. Nick tried and actually managed to do a couple of pretty good ones. The girls were alllll toooo happy to give good advice from the sidelines but got a reality check when they picked the thing up. Jiang Laoshi gave it a try and didn’t manage to get it spinning over her head – one feel of how heavy the thing was was enough for Tracy. We thanked the man and agreed we’d all get whips and then walked on. IMG_4959

We went back to the hotel and geared up to head out for lunch with the group before heading to the dunes. The specialty in Dunhuang is donkey meat, so we had slices of donkey meat with a spicy, oily sauce, and donkey meat noodles for lunch, among other things. Apparently there’s a saying that goes something like “Dragons are in heaven but on earth there is donkey meat.” I thought that was funny, it actually was all very tasty though, and we were hungry. Next we got on the bus and headed to the Singing Sand Mountains. Apparently at some point in time someone got over 200 people to slide down the dune at the same time and it made a loud singing noise, so that spot is named thusly. This was something I was really excited for, it was an hour-long camel ride followed by a short hike up, a slide down a bit further on an inner tube, and then hop back on the camel and loop around. Riding the camel was a lot of fun. As the Gobi gets incredibly cold, they were Bactrian camels, we rode between the humps. It was surprisingly comfortable. I found the best method was to get one leg up like you were trying to sit cross-legged and then to have the other leg down to the side. I felt like I could ride for a long time like that, other people fought the motion of the camel’s gait and looked hilariously uncomfortable. IMG_4995 JD-Gansu-30

The night previous I plotted with Nick and some of the others to ask Fu Laoshi’s permission to split off from the group, hike higher and watch the sunset from the top of a dune (they go as far as the eyes can see and are each veritable mountains), she said yes. We were intent on having a quiet, peaceful experience, so we kept our plans under wraps and managed to recruit Jiang Laoshi to come with us. She has a wonderful spirit of adventure and really wanted to do it.  After the camel ride, sliding down part of one of the dunes, and checking out the small lake oasis we snuck off from the crowd and started the climb up.

Climbing sand mountains is such hard work. It takes energy to even lift your leg, it feels like you’ve taken two steps while your efforts are only worth half a single step. We got to the top of where the adventurous tourists go and talked to an old man who works there picking up trash. He said that it would take us an hour and a half to climb a dune I pointed out – one of the tallest around and closest to us. We really wanted to see the sun set on the Gobi from the top of a dune. The group was Nick, Jiang Laoshi, Jesse, Tracy, Julie, and Stuart. I convinced them that the old man’s hour and a half was hiking at old man pace and that it would take roughly 40 minutes (it took 35). They were up for it so we started trudging on.

We hiked and hiked and sweated, despite it being quite cold. We were mostly silent as we climbed and I thought about things. Chinese people love chengyu’s -little sayings, usually four or eight characters, little pieces of wisdom. I wanted to make my own chengyu so I thought about it while we climbed. Stuart and I led the pack. We made it to the false summit (got to hate that), and headed on to the true peak. Finally we made the last few quad busting steps to the top. It was a spine, you could straddle the dune. It was unnerving in some ways because if you tipped at all you were going to fall 5 or 6 hundred yards to the bottom, but it was absolutely breathtaking. The dunes ran forever in every direction, leading in the distance to mountains. The Gobi Desert. It was so hard to think about what it was like for the travellers on the Silk Road down where the camel ride was and the inner tubes and the tourists smoking cigarettes next to the no smoking signs on the top. On the top of this dune, which we had struggled so hard to climb, we felt like we could see the Silk Road. We could feel the despair of endless desert while at the same time the welcome sight of the lake and the trees. I don’t need to write these things down to remember them, but I will. The wind was incredible, it tore the warmth from you but one by one we sat down at the top, squished together, and watched as the sun went down, lit up, and night fell. IMG_5096on top of the sand dunes, waiting for sunset

Before we left I shared my chengyu. We sat in silence and thought about it for a little bit. I wrote it in my book later, so I could remember it and so I can reference it when I need to. I said, “You’re going to get sand in your shoes, and that’s alright.” I like it. Everyone bought these bootie things to keep sand out of their shoes and I told them that they could tie them up as tight as they wanted, they were still going to get sand in their shoes, but they still paid the 15 kuai and when it came time to take our shoes off their river of sand was no less than mine. I knew it was going to be like that. It’s true though, no matter how much you do to protect from the uncomfortable things, some sand is always going to get in, but that is ok. You just have to dump it out.

We walked home in the dark, mulling things over, smiling and conceding that we were dying of thirst and starving. We marched down out of the Singing Sand Mountains and walked the streets until we found a cab that could take us to the food street. We ate in total silence and all sat back in our chairs. Everyone equally exhausted, sandy, and satisfied. That night we all slept like babies. JD-Gansu-41

The next morning we headed to the Mogao Grottoes, another area where Silk Road merchants commissioned large carvings into cliff walls and even the man-made hollowing of cliffs. They carved into the cliff wall and filled the caves with beautiful paintings on the stone and large ceramic figurines. It was very interesting. The highlight was a 100-something foot long reclining Buddha guarded by several incredibly fierce looking demons. Some day I want a couple of those outside my house. IMG_5139outside the Mogao Grottoes

After the grottoes we headed to the airport and took the only plane at the airport to Xi’an and then connected a flight home to Nanjing. It was almost strange coming back to Nanjing. I hadn’t realized how different, how diverse China is. I thought I had some sense of it having been in Nanjing but now know that I know little to nothing about China. My Chinese improved a lot over the trip and I’m looking forward to learning more so I can be a more effective traveller. For now though, heaven is high and the emperor is far away.

P.S. My whip should arrive within the next 5 days.




CIEE Nanjing 2014 Fall Mid-term Program Update

We came back from our weeklong trip to northwestern China about two weeks ago. Although busy in catching up with the office work after a week’s travel, I can’t wait to write about the program update and most recent activities. The improvement our students have made in Chinese surprised me; and the weeklong trip was, citing a student’s comment, “an oasis of fun in a desert storm of Chinese studies”.

I am very glad to see the progress our students made in their Chinese classes. For each of the three levels, there are four hours of Chinese classes each day from Monday to Thursday, focusing on reading and speaking separately. It’s very intensive and it’s not unusual to see some meltdowns at the start of the program. At least two students from the highest level came to my office in the first few weeks, tears flowing down like streams, expressing difficulty of the class, and how hard it had been for them to adjust to the class pace and teaching style. In cases like this, the best I can do is only to offer encouraging words, such as 继续加油(jì xù jīa yǒu, keep trying) and 慢慢来(màn màn lái, take it slow) as it takes persistence to learn a language like Chinese. When I see our students work on their homework after class, or have a one-on-one tutoring session with their Chinese tutors, I know no matter the length of time, all their efforts will pay off. Lately I got a lot of positive feedback from our Chinese instructors and tutors that our students progressed greatly, which is surprising as we just came back from a weeklong trip. However, it came to me that probably it’s the time for all the efforts to pay off. What’s more, even though the students could not bring Nanjing University classrooms while traveling, by frequently interacting with local people such as tour guides, restaurant waiters, street vendors, etc., they were able to create their own real-world classrooms, and felt more confident in speaking Chinese. IMG_5147a tutoring session

At the same time, I attribute the progress to our fantastic faculty. Some teachers have been teaching CIEE students for the last ten years. Their teaching methods and styles are distinct from what our students are used to in the States. For example, Professor Zhu, one of the instructors for the highest-level class, is famous for her strictness, and a tingxie(dictation) every day which requires you to memorize up to 70 new words daily. She never caves in to pressure from students’ complaints, because after ten years of teaching, she knows what works the best for  progress in the long run. Now after almost two months since the start of the program, most of Prof. Zhu’s students have got used to her teaching methods and found them very effective. The classes became enjoyable and the progress students made even surprised themselves. IMG_5188in Professor Zhu's class

Besides Chinese classes, CIEE Nanjing offers two courses taught in English: history of the US-China Relations instructed by Dr. Liu Woyu and Intercultural Communication and Leadership
(ICL) instructed by Dr. Yanfei Fu, resident director of CIEE Nanjing study center. The history class examines the relations between the United States and China from the 19th century until the end of the 20th century with topics such as the US and China modernization, Mao’s China in the cold war, and the Threat if a Rising of China. By conducting and presenting an independent research, students are able to pursue a topic of their interest in the historical evolvement of US-China relations. In the Intercultural Communication course, through discussions, small group activities and interaction with cultural partners, students develop skills, knowledge and understanding that help them to communicate effectively cross culture and engage more appropriately with local people in their day-to-day life.

As an old Chinese saying goes, 读万卷书行万里路(dú wànjuàn shū xíng wànlǐlù), or in order to attain wisdom, it is not enough merely to read books, you must be well travelled as well. Thus after two months of study in Nanjing, we embarked on a weeklong trip to the Northwestern China. As Nanjing is located in the economically developed Eastern China, we took students to the Northwestern China which is still underdeveloped or even struggling in poverty. This way our students will have a more complete China experience. What’s more, the Northwestern China, especially along the Hexi Corridor, or the Silk Road, is full of historical sites which played an important role in the religious, trade, and knowledge exchange between China and the Middle Asia almost 1,000 years ago. 

More specifically, the places we covered in the Northwestern China were Ningxia and Gansu provinces. Ningxia is a Chinese Muslim autonomous region. In its provincial capital Yinchuan, we had the opportunity to enter a mosque, admire its ceiling and pillars with intricate patterns and hear an Arabic song used to call other Muslims to come to service. Although none of us is Muslim, the simple yet beautiful Arabic song resonating in the mosque hall evoked a sublime feeling in everyone. IMG_4671students outside the mosque in Yinchuan IMG_4674inside the mosque 

After having a first close contact with Chinese Muslim culture, we took an overnight train ride and went on our trip. Next came the Bingling Temple in Linxia and the Labrang Monastery in Xiahe. The Bingling Temple Buddhist grottoes built on cliffs are isolated by the waters of a reservoir and therefore survived China’s tumultuous 20th century thanks to its relative inaccessibility. IMG_4721overnight train ride IMG_4752in the Bingling Temple JD-Gansu-14outside the Bingling Temple

Our experience in Xiahe is yet more unforgettable. This Tibetan town attracts visitors from all over the world because it’s home to the Labrang Monastery, one of the six great monasteries of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism. Before our visit to the Monastery, a group of students ran into a very friendly Tibetan young man who was eager to communicate with foreigners. He invited our students to his simple dorm and told his stories. He is a student at the Monastery studying Tibetan philosophy. He expressed his complex feelings towards the majority Han people: he dislikes Chinese government’s policies that he deems unjust for Tibetan people, but he has many Chinese friends from whom he learns Chinese language and culture. It was the first time for our students to have such a close contact with a Tibetan and I’m glad that their openness and spirit of exploration gave them some authentic Chinese and Tibetan insight that normal tourists wouldn’t get. IMG_4782Outside the Labrang Monastery, Xiahe, Gansu Province. IMG_4780


The trip culminated in Dunhuang, once the most prosperous city along the Silk Road. This fertile
oasis has long been a refuge for weary Silk Road travelers. Most students have picked Dunhuang as their favorite place for the unique experience of camel riding in the desert. Dunhuang is home
to the Mogao Grottoes, one of the greatest repositories of Buddhist art in the world. One student, Henry Guyver, loves Dunhuang more than anything. He’s got a true writer’s talent.We welcome you to read about his Dunhuang experience on this blog. JD-Gansu-29

Coming back to Nanjing with so much shared and cherished memories about the trip, we all settled down again in our home far away from home. Thanksgiving is only three days away. While I feel sorry they can’t go back to the States to be with their families, I’m sure they’ll feel thankful that the CIEE family Thanksgiving in Nanjing will be packed with turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, pumpkin pie and even Sparkling cider! It’ll be their one of their most memorable Thanksgivings.








CIEE Study Center in Nanjing, China Welcomes Fall 2014 Students

Nihao from Nanjing!

I can’t believe it’s been one month since our Fall 2014 students arrived in Nanjing. I still remember how excited I was to receive this new group on their arrival day on 8/29, 2014. They are my fifth group since I joined CIEE in 2012 but each time before a new semester begins I feel full of hopes and excitement. I know I’ll witness life-changing study abroad experiences and I’ll be part of those amazing experiences. This is why I think it’s important to let previous, current and prospective students, parents and study abroad advisors hear our side of study abroad stories. For those who don’t know me yet, my name is Jun Jiang. I am the program assistant in CIEE Nanjing Study Center. In this blog, I’ll talk about how our new students survived their first month in Nanjing.


The orientation started the day right after students’ arrival. Everyone was still struggling with jet lag but also super excited to know about how to start living in a new campus in a new city in China. The orientation components are diverse. First of all, we offered a talk given by Dr. Yanfei Fu, the resident director, about aspects from campus life to living in the city. The talk was followed by a welcome lunch in Xinjiekou, the city’s downtown area. Students walked around Xinjiekou and had their first shopping experience in a Chinese Walmart!

However, my personal favorite orientation activity was the Xuanwu Lake tour during which we did great icebreakers. First of all, the Xuanwu Lake itself can make a great trip. It’s the biggest lake in the city, very close to the city center. Imagine after only one subway stop from our center, you walk in from one of the 600-year-old city gates, and feel welcomed by the open view of the beautiful lake, islets connected by stone bridges, and breezes that flurry away the summer heat. Our icebreakers full of laughters created exhilarating moments while next to the lake we even zumba’ed! Justin Nygard, a previous student and a professional zumba instructor, brought this fun sport to Nanjing. After he was gone, his students decided to continue and pass down this great sport. That’s why it’s a CIEE Nanjing tradition now. CIEE Nanjing is full of stories like this; while students get a life-changing experience studying abroad, they make impact and change life of the local people.

                   Orientation by Dr. Yanfei Fu, resident director of CIEE Nanjing Center.

  IMG_3899Students and their Chinese roommates on the 600-year-old city wall during the orientation.

  IMG_3923Students doing an icebreaker in the Xuanwu Lake.

  IMG_3941Students zumbaing in the Xuanwu Lake.

Many previous students told me while they studied at CIEE Nanjing Center, they felt CIEE was a family of American peers, Chinese roommates, tutors and staff. During the orientation and follow-up activities, our goal was to let our new students, through knowing and hanging out with their Chinese roommates and tutors, feel like Nanjing is their second home. A great icebreaking opportunity we offered was a “Deep Connections” meeting of all American and Chinese students. We encouraged students to make “deep connections” with their tutors by answering intriguing questions about their hobbies, goals and dreams.

Students meeting with their tutors.

The connections got deeper when everyone hiked the Purple Mountain, the highest mountain in Nanjing, also very close to the city. In the first half of the hiking, American students were not very used to going up a mountain on stairs, and there were many stairs, so it was quite a challenge. However, on our way down the mountain, we started hiking on a lesser-known dirt road hidden in the woods. The best part was that the dirt road led us to the Zixia Lake (Purple Cloud Lake) at the foot of the mountain. Many students couldn’t resist the temptation of the beauty so dived in and let the waves wash away the fatigue. While sitting by the lake, watching students having a great time in the water, and gazing at the mountain right next to the lake, I felt so fortunate to live in a city blessed with nature and felt happy for our students. Nanjing couldn’t be a better choice.

  IMG_4040The Purple Mountain Hiking.

  IMG_4049The Purple Cloud Lake.

While Nanjing is a great place to be in for tree huggers, you should never worry about the lack of convenience and fun of city life. A CIEE karaoke night explains it. It’s another CIEE tradition. At the beginning of each semester, we have roommates singing their hearts out at karaoke night. But before that each American student studies a Chinese song from his roommate, and teaches his roommate an English song. The reciprocal teaching and learning serves as a great ice breaker and makes karaoke night unforgettable.

  IMG_4169The CIEE Karaoke night.

Weekend trip to the Mt. Mogan (莫干山Mògān shān)

It used to always be Shanghai for a fall semester weekend trip. Although previous trips proved to be successful, Shanghai is easy for American students: it’s very close to Nanjing; it’s an international city where you don’t have to speak Chinese to survive; and public transportation is super convenient. We decided to take students to places not only worth a visit but are hard for them to go and explore on their own.

Mt. Mogan is such a place. It only takes one and a half hour to get to the city closest to the mountain by bullet train, but you’ll have to transfer to a private bus and endure a 40-minute bumpy ride to reach the foot of the mountain. However, when you get there, you’ll realize it’s all worth it. That’s how our students felt. The mountain is covered with bamboos and is lush all year round. To some students, it is “the real China”, a picturesque landscape from movies like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. In eastern China today where modernization is bulldozing nature everywhere, views like this are few and far between. I feel so glad we took students here. The hiking in the mountains has been amazing. Walking on the broken stone stairs, surrounded by the sea of bamboo on both sides, although tired from climbing the mountain, I wanted to hike forever. When we got to the peak, the view of the lush range in the distance and villages at the foot of the mountain was breathtaking.

  IMG_4295The Mt. Mogan hiking.

  IMG_4306On top of the world.

Besides being in touch with nature, another important part of this trip is to experience countryside life in eastern China. We stayed in two family hostels whose owners are farmers. They’ve lived and worked at the foot of the mountain for generations. On the first day of the trip, we learned from the mom of the family how to prepare Nangua bing (a dissert similar to pumpkin cookies). The ingredients are easy to find and the recipe is duplicable. Students can make it for family and friends after they go back to the States. In terms of night life, as in all countrysides, there is not much to do, yet the mahjong fans were satisfied for the two nights here. I was amazed by the fancy mahjong table which could get the tiles piled up for you before the next game in just 10 seconds. It was a magical 10 seconds.

  IMG_4208Students learning to make Nangua Bing.

  IMG_4318Students playing mahjong in one of the mountain houses we stayed.

Community engagement

Probably you never imagined what an English class would be like in a Chinese elementary school and how you could teach 40 Chinese first or second graders English for 40 minutes. CIEE Nanjing offers this opportunity. It happens in an elementary school close to our center. For the first visit, student sat in one English class, then talked with the principals about the school and China’s elementary school education. More than half students signed up to volunteer in the school. Last Friday, they had the first teaching. It was harder than they expected. The class size can bring big challenges: with 40 kids in one class, the key is to figure out a way to get the kids’ attention when they are becoming out of control. Fortunately, our students will be better prepared for their next class coming in two weeks. More importantly, they get to have the first-hand classroom teaching experience and close contact with China’s education.

  IMG_4128Sitting in an English class at Hankoulu Elementary School.

  IMG_4381Teaching second graders.

  IMG_4363Teaching first graders.

In one day, students are setting off for their independent fall break trips. Their destinations include Tibet or Yunnan in western China, and nearby cities like Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai. Some people will stay in Nanjing to explore the city more. The first month in Nanjing has armed them with necessary language skills and understanding of Chinese culture. I know they’ll face difficulties and challenges, such as adapting to the “人山人海 rén shān rén hǎi”(a direct translation would be “people mountain people sea” which is quite self-explanatory) as their fall break coincidences China’s national day holiday. However, I know they’ll survive and come back with many amazing stories to share with everyone. 



CIEE Study Center in Nanjing, China: Mid-semester Update

By Heidi Weingardt

Ni Hao from Nanjing!


At the end of this week we are already coming to the close of the fifth week of our Nanjing adventure. Everyone has been extremely busy with their internships, homework load and returning from our travels outside our home-base of Nanjing. We have all made significant progress in adjusting and becoming more comfortable with our lives here but, without doubt there is still much hard work to be done and aspects of Chinese culture to experience.


First and foremost, the adjustment to the pace and rigor of our classes has been significant. The year long students have been cruising along in their class work relatively seamlessly since they have had time to adjust to the significant workload and those of us who are only here for a semester, we are just not really catching our stride. We spend several hours a night preparing for the next days lesson and studying for our “Ting Xie” or listening and writing quizzes. Midterms took place two weeks ago so we have been able to gage the progress that we have made in our studies. Although Chinese can be a very challenging language at times, we have all found it reassuring to acknowledge the small steps that we make that facilitate small, everyday conversations.


Outside our classroom studies, we have spent much time getting involved in the various internships and volunteering opportunities that have been offered by CIEE Nanjing Center. Several students travel to a law firm to work on the translations for various cases, while others volunteer at the community center, located right across the street from our dorm where they teach English to Nanjing locals.


After the first visit to the law firm where our students would start their internship.

Student Daniel Emirkhanian teaching at the community center.

I and a few of my classmates are currently interning at MAP Magazine, editing, translating and writing local Nanjing news articles. Also, a large group of us travel to a migrant school, a few subway stops away, every other Friday to teach the school children and help them work on their English. It has been a true test of patience and creativity at times, to keep the kids engaged and learning. Games, colorful power points and lots of high-fives have been key in our steadily improving teaching routines.


Students Daniel Emirkhanian, Nick Schan and Allison Harissis teaching at the migrant school.



We have also participated in several trips within the city to get ourselves better acquainted with important parts of the city. These have included the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum, the Urban Planning Museum, The John Rabe House and the park by Purple Mountain. At these locations we have learned about not only the history of the city, but also about the future of Nanjing while bonding and getting to know each other really well.


 Students in a guided visit to the John Rabe Residence.


We have also fully recovered now from our outside-of-Nanjing travel experiences. We first went to the beautiful Xiamen city where we rode tandem bikes along the beach, ate fresh coconut and mango, and spent sometime exploring an island with a well informed local guide. There was beach wrestling, sunset watching, beautiful hotels, all composing a great weekend trip and a nice break from the hustle of Nanjing city life.


 Students get ready to explore Xiamen city on tandem bikes. From left to right: Lizzy Daily, Justin Nygard, Inteus Taylor, Michiru Aita.


Students enjoying their time at a beautiful garden on Gulangyu Island, Xiamen city.

Two weeks later we trekked through the Guizhou province, gathering a wide variety of experiences for our weeklong trip. Nothing could thoroughly prepare us for all that Guizhou had to offer. Our first day, after an early morning flight, we visited the largest waterfall in China. We explored the surrounding area and got soaked in the spray. There was a huge waterfall created by the mist and there was a unanimous sense of euphoria in the beautiful environment.


Students getting soaked in the spray of the Huangguoshu Waterfall, in Guizhou Province.

Over the next few days we visited a huge karst cave formation, and participated in the Miao Ethnic Minority Sisterhood Festival in various towns and villages. The young girls donned dark velvet embroidered outfits and huge silver headdresses, both representative of centuries of cultural history. There we haggled our way through endless booths of handmade crafts, jewelry and fabric. We had wonderful conversations with two ethnic minority guides, who facilitated a wonderful experience and answered any and all questions that we had.


 Students getting amazed at the Zhijin Cave, one of the biggest karst caves in the whole world.

After the festival experiences, we then took a bus deep into the mountains of Guizhou and hiked our way up to a Miao ethnic minority village which would become our home for the next 3 days. We were welcomed with a celebratory dance, and small bowls of the local rice liquor; a custom for honored guests. We spent time in the village classroom learning the local language, Miao songs, how to embroider, and how to make straw shoes. We hiked up to the top of the surrounding mountains to build a bonfire to roast meat and potatoes along with observing how Miao people do nature worship to two famous rocks. Some students woke up early before the activities started each day to enjoy the natural scenery and hike around on their own. Personally, I will never forget my time spent in the village. It felt like stepping back a few thousand years in history. I felt a complete sense of calm in those mountains covered in layers of rice terraces. The trip was intense, completely magical and culturally fascinating.


Students learning to do embroidery in the Mhong village. From left to right: Heidi Weingardt, Allison Harissis and Lizzy Daily.


Students learning to play Lusheng (a traditional musical instrument of the Mhong people). From left to right: Sarah Barnes, Austin Roberts, Daniel Emirkhanian.

In recent events, many of the students participated in a flash mob promoting the 2nd International Youth Olympic Games that will be hosted here in Nanjing this summer. The event was sponsored by Map Magazine coordinators and involved three staged dances at different historic locations around the city. The students were dressed in brightly colored Olympic-themed clothes and danced to three different songs while surrounded by hundreds of onlookers. If you google “Nanjing Youth Olympic Flash Mob” it is very easy to find photos online. Here is one of links for the event reported in Chinese,


Students doing a flash mob at Xinjiekou, Nanjiing's downtown area.


For the rest of this week, we are all preparing for our different spring break adventures and working hard to gather information for our final Chinese culture papers. I think that I speak for us all when I say I really cannot wait to see what next China holds in store for us.


CIEE Study Center in Nanjing, China Welcomes Spring 2014 Students

By Justin Nygard

The moment you get to the dorms the first day, you are welcomed by CIEE’s amazing staff, whom have done everything they can to make our adjustment to the Chinese lifestyle and local area seamless. This might sound like I am over exaggerating about how easy it is to begin living in China, but you can ask any student their first impression of China and they will all say that even after a week of living here, they still cannot comprehend that they are in China. What I mean is Nanjing is an extremely modern city that makes living in China resemble like living in the states. Although the city has its share of western influences, Nanjing also holds a considerable amount of traditional and historical places let alone not to mention everyone speaks Mandarin. In my opinion, it is more comfortable than Shanghai, being that it is safer, smaller city. In addition to being more traditional than the westernized and developed city that is Beijing.

Within the first few days we students are taken on tours of the most important places to know near the dormitories such as the local market, banks, and subway stations. Another way that we students familiarize ourselves with the local area is that our program staff organized a scavenger hunt of places that previous CIEE students most frequented like coffee shops, restaurants, and other places to hang out or study. DSCN9832

Students get ready for the scavenger hunt. (photo credit: Jun Jiang)

It was a really fun way to work together to use our Chinese to find our way around as a group. We also visited places like the Ganxi Old Residence, Xuanwu Lake, the six-hundred year old Ming city wall, a Confucian temple, and other historical landmarks where we learned the importance of Nanjing, being that it was the birthplace of democracy in China, even though it was short lived. Even though I have lived here for a semester, I am continually learning how the events that took place here in this city shaped the way China is today. In comparison to other cities I have visited, Nanjing has a great balance of traditional and modern aspects. IMG_0468

Students participate in an ice-breaker during the orientation. (photo credit: Jun Jiang)


Students visit the Ganxi Residence which also serves as Nanjing Folklore Museum.(photo credit: Jun Jiang)

After a few days we begin to settle in and the jet lag wears off. The students who decide to live in the dorms are paired with Chinese roommates while those who chose to live in a homestay meet their family and move out with them. Last semester I chose to live in the dorms, in which my roommate became a really close friend whom I know I will be friends with for the rest of my life. Living in the dorms is convenient because our classes are in the same building just six floors below. This semester I chose to live in a homestay to diversify my experience in China. Honestly, the first day I met my Chinese family I was scared to death. I didn’t know what to expect, how their lifestyle is at home, and how I would fit in. All I knew is that the Chinese family knows very little English and I would have no choice but to use Chinese to communicate with them. But five minutes after meeting my shushu (meaning “uncle” in Chinese which is what you call a male whom is one generation older than you) we entered the elevator to leave the building to move out to his house, he struggled with his English as he slowly said, “You are not a foreigner, you are a member of the family.” This completely eradicated any fear I had, and as time goes on, I am more convinced they will always be family to me.

At the end of the week we were paired up with tutors. The students living in the dorms would be paired with Chinese roommates while the homestay students were assigned tutors whose majors were Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages. Students would not be assigned a tutor who is also their roommate, this way everyone would have two people they could rely on for help, their roommates and their tutors. It is mandatory for those in the dorms to be tutored three hours per week as the homestay students are tutored two hours so they may spend more time with their Chinese families. Tutoring is great! I would take my tutor out to a nearby coffee shop or restaurant and discuss any questions I have about the grammar I learned in class. Afterwards we would have basic conversations of our everyday life. If you are studying a foreign language you probably understand that at some point you realize you can elaborate on topics such as China’s Reform and Opening, however lack the everyday vocabulary needed to go shopping or order food. Living in Nanjing and participating in this program so far has improved my comprehension on advanced grammar and text while at the same time learning slang and the local accents spoken outside the classroom. IMG_0687

Students meet their tutors. (photo credit: Jun Jiang)

One of my biggest frustrations about the Mandarin language is the tones. By using the wrong tone of voice for each syllable can be the difference from saying that you want to “buy” a house, to saying you want to “sell” a house. For an English native speaker, the tones can be one of the most difficult things to master. Starting the second week us students attend a pronunciation tutoring session once a week to focus on nothing but tones and pronunciation. For the first half of the session I will read aloud passages I am studying in class. During the second half, I hold basic conversations with my tutor. She will stop me when I have incorrectly articulated a word and will write down suggestions on how to improve my pronunciation. Already have I seen an improvement and look forward to the day when my proficiency of Mandarin gets to the point when the tones come naturally. Hopefully by the end of this program!!! This is my goal, and I am set on making it happen.

When it comes to doing homework, a lot of time is spent preparing for the next dictation quiz. Practicing tones, memorizing how to write the characters, and writing the occasional essay is the basic routine of my study time. I am grateful to be able to focus on nothing but Chinese language and culture because I was too spread out in my studies since I was taking a variety of courses back in the states. In my reading class we spend a lot of time reading the text and understanding the underlying grammar structures. We take the grammar and try to put it to use in different contexts. For example, the chapter might be talking about how the West has influenced China, we will take the grammar “to influence” and create sentences like how our parents influenced us or how we influenced others. I realized how easy it is to read and understand Chinese from a book, but it is harder to create your own sentence structures that are related to the text. This is why the spoken class is so beneficial. With the focus on creating impromptu grammatically correct sentences, we are forced to think on our feet. This class is my favorite by far. Which I am sure is because of my teacher. She gets extremely excited when I used grammar she taught me weeks before. For example every time I use words I learned from last semester she might clap or happily gasp which makes me personally feel good and strive harder to reuse things I learned long ago. In the states I was very self conscious of my Chinese, scared to use it in public because I feared of being wrong. But now I love speaking Chinese and I know it’s because of the experiences I have had over the past semester that has made me more outgoing and confident in Chinese dialogue. Overall, this has been a tremendous experience and I cannot wait to see what else is in store!



What I have Learned Living in Nanjing as of 11/3/2013

I have been living in Nanjing for almost two and a half months.  A wonderful city that features the best of Chinese history and modernization efforts, Nanjing is the perfect learning environment for an intermediate mandarin speaker.  Before coming to study here there was one thing that worried me. Before I continue, I would like to take a moment to introduce my background.  I am a fifth generation Japanese-American originally from Hawaii.  As someone whose appearance very strongly resembles an ethnic Han Chinese person, I often receive puzzled looks and quizzical stares when stumbling through sentences with native Chinese speakers.  I can confidently make the claim that every time I go out in Nanjing, whether it’s coffee or a cab ride, the following interaction takes place: After fumbling through a sentence in Chinese and/or a “ting bu dong” the person I am talking to will question my nationality.  American, but this answer is never good enough since Americans can ONLY be white Caucasians (kidding), which ultimately leads to a question that I used to dread more than anything.  If you aren’t Chinese, what is your ethnicity? I used to lie.  Thai, Filipino, anything but the truth, since the truth would only turn this quick conversation sour.  


            For those unfamiliar with modern Chinese history, Nanjing is the site of the Nanjing Massacre, a devastating invasion that has stained relations between Japan and China for the past seventy five years.   On December 13th, 1937 the Imperial Japanese Army marched from Shanghai into the former Chinese capital of Nanjing.  Over the course of 6 weeks, hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians were mercilessly raped and killed by Japanese forces.  The Japanese occupied Nanjing for the next 8 years, where many more Chinese perished.  Those who survived lived in fear of their ruthless oppressors. The brutality of the war crimes committed by the Japanese almost 75 years ago paired with the many important members of the contemporary government denying such war crimes a major contributing factor to existing tension between the two countries. 


            Visiting the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, it was very clear that the Nanjing Massacre is still fresh on many people’s minds.  Survivors who witnessed the horrors of the massacre are still alive today to give their accounts of “Japanese devils” destroying their homes and families.  Walking around the Memorial Hall seeing the horrifying pictures, graphic descriptions, and videos of survivors giving their descriptions, I was entranced peculiar sensation.  It began with shame.  Shame that I shared the same bloodline as the villains who destroyed so much of China.  I can’t quite answer why I felt this way, especially since I am a fifth generation American whose family was in Hawaii long before the 1930’s and WWII.  But if anybody in the museum knew my dirty little secret, I felt that I would be the target of loathing and disgust.




            It took me a few days, maybe even a week to clear my head and make sense of the feelings I experienced in the Memorial Hall.  It finally struck me that there is absolutely no reason that I should feel inclined to hide my ethnicity or feel ashamed of whom I am.  I have no responsibility in what happened 75 years ago and I do not deny the events that happened in Nanjing.  If the natives of Nanjing found me charming as a Thai-American girl, why wouldn’t they be able to find me charming as a Japanese-American?  While I believe the former is true, I understand this can be difficult for some.  No matter where you go in the world, you will encounter people who refuse to open their minds to something contrary to what they believe. So be it, I am here to talk to anyone that is willing to listen. If people have formed a predisposed opinion that anyone with Japanese blood is terrible and untrustworthy, I want to be here to change their minds. Just as the people of China educate me through their language and culture, I want to be here to educate them in acceptance of individual character over racial stereotypes. Living in Nanjing, I learned to be confident of who I am as an individual and accept the consequences of p: a Japanese-American with a very strong affinity towards Chinese culture. 




As I checked my watch I realized I was going to be late. It’s already 6:55, and I was supposed to be at Zhongtiaolu station at 7:00. I counted six more stops until I reached my destination. Once again my friend Christina’s English abilities had left something lost in translation. When she had texted me an invitation to dinner at the hotel she worked at I had assumed the stop “on line 1, close, 3QU” would have been a 20 minute ride, but after 40 minutes of traveling it dawned on me once again that the Chinese idea of “very close” is much the same as the Chinese idea of “ten minutes”­­––i.e. closer to an hour.

Christina’s English abilities, though better than most, is still colored by a thick­––sometimes indecipherable­–– Chinese accent. When I arrived at the station I heard her even before I saw her, yelling quite loudly that something “So sucks!” I see her and Cici standing at a nearby exit speaking to each other, and quickly make my way toward them unsurprised to hear them speaking English with one another.  Since I first met them, both have seemed to fall into a new category of Chinese youth who I perceive to be obsessed with western culture. They speak English constantly, wear exclusively popular western brands, love American pop music, and have found a niche in the local expat circle as everyone’s favorite “Chinese friends.”  At first glance they seem every bit the contrast of what one would consider a traditional Chinese girl: outgoing, social, bubbly, etc.

 I met Christina my first week in China at a language exchange, and grew to become friends with her in the context of the local Nanjing expat social scene. She is a small girl, barely five foot, and very pretty with long hair and an always smiling face. What first struck me about her is how loud and boisterous she is, always shouting her unique mixture of pidgin English and Chinese, never speaking it. I originally thought her to be much different from the shy, reserved Chinese girls I had been meeting, and this observation proved to be true the more I got to know her. Cici too, is very untraditional. Tall and elegant­––Cici is a model-turned-English teacher. Her English is much clearer than Christina’s, and as she greats me I notice an affected British accent­­–– something she has been trying out since recently starting to date an Expat from the UK.

We walk toward the hotel chatting about what we all did during the day­––working sleeping seems to be the consensus.  The hotel is very nice, probably a four star hotel by American standards, and Christina greats her colleagues as we go inside. She explains she has tickets to the Hotel’s buffet that some of her clients had given her as tokens of their appreciation. Christina works in what she explains as “Foreign Guest Relations,” and I quickly realize that even though her English is middling at best no one else at the hotel seems to speak anything.  The buffet is large and I grab a plate and a table. I watch awed as each girl brings over at least three or four different plates of food while happily complaining how fat they are going to get. If I close my eyes it sounds just like my college friends back home­––had the table been lined with Pinkberry Cups and Johnny Rockets burger wrappers instead of noodles and duck it could have practically been the same thing.

I think about it for a second and realize that in the few months I have known them, I have only seen them with other foreigners and maybe one or two other Chinese friends. Western friends dominate their social circles, and this once again makes me think of how different they are from the other Chinese girls I have met.  My roommate for example is a quiet, reserved girl who upon moving in with me told me I was the first foreign girl she had ever become good friends with.  While Christina and Cici can often be found after work going to restaurants, bars, and clubs with expats­­–– my roommate and her friends who are all around the same age are usually exclusively with other Chinese students spending their nights playing games and watching TV.  Both types of girls are hard workers, concerned about their futures and filled with a sense of wanting to make their families proud, but I see in Cici and Christina a desire to become more connected with the Western world. I feel that they think to be western is to be modern, and are starting to cast off some of the social morays they had been raised with here in China­––becoming more and more like me and other typical American 20 somethings and less and less like my roommate and the average 20 something Chinese woman.

As we finish our meal, I reach for my coat and Cici comments on how beautiful she thinks it is asking what brand it is.  I laugh and tell her it’s just something I bought at target, not a brand name, but she still insists she likes it. She then goes on to tell me how beautiful she thinks I am and hugs me. I’m always surprised by how affectionate she and summer both are, constantly hugging me and kissing me on the cheek, always wanting to hold hands.  It seems a bit absurd to me that someone who once modeled in Shanghai could find me at all glamorous, and I can’t help but thinking perhaps part of my allure is the same as the knock-off Michael Korrs bag on her arm­––I’m foreign and therefore different.  As we try to catch a cab I tell them once again how much I love them, and I really do. They are two of the most interesting people I have ever met, and have been incredible friends. To me this night was just another example of what makes them so very interesting and relatable.  Like me they are just normal 20 somethings trying to define themselves, and that is what I think made our relationship work so well. We are both attracted to each other because we are different and exotic to each other, yet at the same time facing the same struggles of personal identity and the complexities of making our way in the world. 

An Amazing Experience


Before traveling to China, I had some preconceptions of what living in China would be like. I learned the basics of China. None of my classes had really prepared me for what it was going to be like to “live” China. Upon living in Nanjing, and travelling around China, for almost an entire semester, I had experienced many things that could be considered, from an outsiders perspective, a truly “China” experience. I have eaten at many different street food stands, from one of the best fried noodle dishes I have ever had in my life, prepared in 3 minutes before my very eyes. I have had a little taste of dog that was forced upon me, questioning my moral compass the whole time I was chewing. I have crossed a road in Nanjing, which while it may seem like a very easy thing to do, was one of the first challenges I had to come across. I have also seen the greatest view of Nanjing possible, 57 floors up, up a 2-story ladder, and onto an open-air deck, surrounded by towering buildings and the sun setting before my eyes. I have drunk baijiu 白酒, danced with crazy Chinese men and women, and made jokes with Chinese security guards. I have gotten absolutely lost in the middle of Guilin with 4 great friends and no idea of how to get back to our hostel. I saw the most beautiful river, surrounded by Karst landscapes, the only area in the world that has this scenery. I have eaten freshly made lamb at a livestock market in Kashgar, surrounded by live cattle and camels. I rode a camel. Let me repeat, I rode a camel. This does not even begin to touch upon the experience that I have had here and while some of these things are not just limited to China, most of them are and have completely changed my view of China and the culture of the country. I have been completely immersed into the “China” lifestyle, learned how to live a vastly different life than at home. First time living in a city, first time living in another country, farthest away from my home and family for the longest time in my life. While this was a very daunting scenario before I came to Nanjing, it has turned into my second home. If I ever get the opportunity to live in China again, I would drop everything and come back. China, as huge and scary as it is, has become my second home.


A trip to Luo Yang



Blog post about travel in Luo Yang

During the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday in China I decided to take a solo trip to a city with a long history and many attractions. Situated on the Yellow River, the birthplace of Chinese culture, Luo Yang is an interesting city that is both old and modern. Walking down the many streets and alley ways of Luo Yang I was surprised to see more writing in traditional Chinese (繁体字) than simplified (简体字). It seems as if the city decided to keep its cultural roots and disregard the latest changes to the written script. As one would expect, a city without much simplified Chinese was also a city without much English. Another layer of confusion came from the thick accent that most of the residents of Luo Yang spoke in. Thankfully, with good signage and a helpful map, I was able to get around the city. The three big attractions of Luo Yang are the Longmen Grottos, The White Horse Temple, and the Water Banquet (The first two are historical sites and the last one a delicious medley of soup-based dishes).

 The Longmen Grottos are a set of grottos carved into the walls of a canyon with a long river running through it. There is a long staircase carved into the mountain up to a giant statue of Buddha. Both the size and scope of the grottos were breathtaking. Although the grottos were amazing, the focus of everyone around me was not on the carvings but on me. It was a unique experience in that I finally got the feeling that I was a stranger in a strange land (人生地不熟). Far from the international coast, Luo Yang doesn’t get as many foreigners as some of the other big cities in China. For the entire day at the Longmen Grottos, I ended up talking to people in both English and Chinese, snapping pictures with locals, tourists, and their babies. Needless to say, by the time I dragged myself out of the grottos I was ready for a hearty dinner of Luo Yang’s famous soups. 20130920_084645